The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to quicken the shift to digital financial services in Africa, Ecobank Transnational Incorporated CEO Ade Ayeyemi told The Africa Report.

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In the short term, implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) should be delayed due to COVID-19, said Ayeyemi. 

  • Deferring implementation of the pact would avoid problems posed by COVID-19 being attributed to the agreement itself, he said.  “There’s a problem of timing.” 

Operating conditions for the bank will be “extraordinarily challenging” in coming months, Ayeyemi said when reporting the bank’s first-quarter results on 24 April. The non-performing loan (NPL) ratio for the first quarter increased only marginally to 9.9% from 9.7% at the end of December. 

  •  Ayeyemi used medical metaphors rather than figures to describe the outlook for NPLs. “Does the patient feel pain when coming out of surgery?” 
  • The bank is in constant dialogue with its clients to identify actual or potential problems, he said. 
  • “An exogenous shock will go through the system one way or another.” 

Transaction levels are down, and customers “are not doing what they used to do in the quantity they used to do it.” Some purchases, rather than being deferred, will never take place, he said. The bank is using staff on a rotational basis to keep working while minimising social contact. 

As for a timetable for the resumption of dividend payments, Ayeyemi said he would need to call Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to ask him when the world will defeat COVID-19. Perhaps he should try another number: Ecobank in fact has not paid a dividend since 2017. 

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